Surrender to the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 3)(25) by Lorraine Heath
Therefore, face the crowds he did. So far, all had gone amazingly well as long as he strolled slowly through the corridors, which fortunately were immense. If he did bump into anyone, he apologized with the excuse of being enthralled by the marvels before him.
Even he, who had seen the Taj Mahal, was fascinated by the glass and metal structure that contained exhibits representing cultures from all over the world. For him, it was far grander than anything it housed. British ingenuity at its finest.
As Sterling glanced around, trying to determine in which direction he should go, he decided it was an absolutely marvelous time to be alive. Within this massive building, even the common man was given a glimpse of the world beyond England’s shores. As he strolled casually along, he enjoyed watching the people’s amazement as much as he enjoyed viewing the exhibits.
He felt the ruffling of his jacket, wondered who he’d run into now, and turned. No one was in close enough proximity to have brushed against him, although he did spy an urchin running away. Sterling slipped his hand in his pocket and discovered it empty. “You there! Thief! Hold!”
But the boy kept running. Sterling dashed after him. It was only a handkerchief, for God’s sake. It wasn’t as though he didn’t have a dozen or so—but it was the principle of the thing. “Stop him! You there! Thief!”
Most people glanced around as though confused. Those who caught the gist of it found themselves grabbing at air as the boy effectively evaded capture.
Ah, he was fast, the little bugger, like a little monkey. If Sterling hadn’t been traipsing over continents, often lugging a heavy rifle or from time to time some crucial supply, he might have found himself winded as he tore after the irritating thief. Unfortunately, the boy could do what Sterling couldn’t—dart in and around people effectively, while often Sterling misjudged their nearness and clipped them or heard startled gasps as he got too close and they jerked back. In the back of his mind, he realized the pursuit was probably futile, but he was determined not to let the crafty criminal escape. The boy needed to be taught a lesson.
Remarkably, Sterling somehow managed to gain ground and catch up with the thief just as he was taking a sharp turn around a dark skirt. Anger spurring him on, Sterling reached down and grabbed the boy by the scruff of his collar, closing his hand effectively around his jacket and hauling him up.
“Lemme go! Lemme go!”
“You little thief. I’m going to haul your bony hide to gaol.” Turning abruptly, Sterling found himself staring into the gorgeous green eyes that frequented his dreams.
“Your Grace,” Miss Darling said, smiling softly, obviously as pleased by his appearance as he was by hers.
“Miss Darling.” The boy was struggling against Sterling’s hold, but he couldn’t twist around to inflict any damage to his captor. Sterling was tempted to release the little devil, simply so he could take Miss Darling’s hand to kiss it and give her a proper gentlemanly greeting. How ironic that he’d spent so many nights at Dodger’s hoping for a glimpse of her and he’d crossed paths with her here.
“What’s Charley done now?” she asked.
Sterling looked at the boy, took a careful glance around, and realized three other lads similar in size to the squawking one he held were gathered near her skirts. “He’s yours?”
She nodded, frustration and perhaps a sense of embarrassment evident in her expression. “What did you do, Charley Byerly?”
But he stopped fighting and hung his head as though all strength had been drained from him.
“What did you do, Charley?” Miss Darling repeated. “If His Grace has to tell me, then you shall spend the rest of the afternoon in the carriage with Mr. Donner.”
“Caw. Blimey. Not ’im.”
Her voice was so stern, so filled with disappointment, that Sterling was on the verge of confessing something himself, anything to see her smile return.
“Snatched a wipe,” Charley grumbled.
She held out her hand.
“Everything all right over here?” a deep voice asked.
Quick to turn his head around, Sterling caught sight of the constable standing there. With so many other people walking about it was easy to miss his footsteps. Just the person he’d been searching for a few minutes ago. But he would suffice just as well now to take this troublemaker off Sterling’s hands, haul him to gaol, and see that he was punished for his transgressions.
“Yes, Constable, everything is fine,” Sterling said. “Just one of the lads getting a bit more rambunctious than he should with all these exhibits around. But I have him well in hand now.”
Not what he’d planned to say, but he’d decided at the last second it was what he needed to say in order to stay in Miss Darling’s good graces, which was where he dearly wanted to belong.
“Very good then.” With authority, the constable strode away.
Sterling turned his attention back to Miss Darling. Gratitude shone in her eyes, but he didn’t want gratitude. He wanted passion, fire, desire.
“Your arm must be getting tired. I’m certain you can put him down now,” she said.
“I’m much stronger than I look, Miss Darling.”
“ ’n’ quick, too,” Charley muttered.
“Is he likely to run off if I release him?” Sterling asked.
“No. You won’t will you, Charley? I should be terribly disappointed if you did.”
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